Virtual Classroom Visits

Instructors: Dot Porter and Nicholas Herman

Are you a medievalist or early modernist? Are you a K-12 teacher with a unit on medieval or renaissance history? Are you a library science instructor who teaches history of the book? Do you teach history of science or mathematics? Do you ever wish that you had access to primary sources, manuscripts and printed books, to illustrate concepts covered in your classes?

You may be interested in a service from the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries. Since Spring 2016 we have offered Virtual Classroom Visits, featuring manuscripts and early printed books from our collections, and knowledgeable curators to introduce the items.

What is a Virtual Classroom Visit?

During a Virtual Classroom Visit, a curator at Penn will display and interact with books from our collection, while you and your class watches and asks questions via a video feed. We have document cameras installed in our lab, and we can share the camera views via Zoom or other video conferencing system. We can serve both in-person classes (if you have a large monitor or projector on your end), virtual classes (where every student joins individually), or a combination of both.

View through the ceiling camera.
View through the ceiling camera.

What kind of books might I show my class?

At Penn, we have a pretty good collection of medieval and renaissance manuscripts. Many of them are in Latin, and include a few Books of Hours, some Bibles, plus a small number of books in Middle English (including a Wycliffite Bible). We also have a very strong collection of secular books – medicine, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, astronomy, and many more – mostly later medieval and early modern, some non-Western. We also have a collection of incunabula, and many other collections of early printed books. To find out more about what manuscripts and early printed books we have, click some of the links above or search and browse Franklin, our online catalogue (this link specifies as the location “Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts” – you can browse from there, and manuscript records include links to digitized copies when available).

Why should we have a Virtual Classroom Visit, rather than visiting books in our library or viewing scanned books online?

If your library owns items relevant to your class, you need to take your class to your local library! Your librarians will be happy to see you, and there is nothing that compares to the experience of a rare book in real life. For the same reason, if you don’t have access to books at your own library, while it’s not the same as viewing books in real life a Virtual Classroom Visit provides an object-centered view of the book that doesn’t come across in still images. While the resolution of the streaming video isn’t high (so it might be difficult to make out text, especially if it’s quite small), you can really get a sense of the size and “heft” of books, see how they move, even hear them, all things that are more or less obscured by digitization.

Sounds interesting. How do I find out more?

If you are interested in the possibility of a Virtual Classroom Visit, now or in the future, please fill in our interest form and we’ll get back to you soon! You my also be interested in our Video Orientations or our ongoing series Coffee With A Codex.

Read about the experience that Megan Cook at Colby College had with a Virtual Classroom Visit in 2017.

A handful of examples of books in our collection.